Nov 8, 2013 - Honors IV    Comments Off on Research Paper: Structuring the Writing

Research Paper: Structuring the Writing


Now that you’ve gathered source material and have a good idea about the relationship between between your stated problem and your chosen solution, it’s time to get your ducks in order. A strong underlying structure is the key to a well-written paper. It also makes the writing process easier, since your structure creates a “road map” of sorts for what to write about next.

Although some students like to work from diagrams, many prefer a formal outline to help them organize their thinking. Here I will create an outline based on our original problem –>solution map with additional explanations of each part of the outline.



I.   Define the Problem

II.   Potential Solutions

A. Solution A
B. Solution B

III.   Selected Solution

A. Why it’s the best choice
B. Expected outcome



INTRODUCTION – Your opening paragraph has two jobs: spur interest in your choice of topic and introduce your thesis. The thesis statement is, essentially, the answer you have arrived at for your original research question. Your thesis does not have to be super-specific (that’s the job of the body of the paper), but it should give the reader a good idea of how you will be developing the paper.

DEFINE THE PROBLEM – This section should define which aspect of the problem you will be focusing on in the paper. For example, if you’re writing about schools, you’re not going to list everything that might be an issue with schools right now. You might want to look at inequities between schools, perhaps, or what kind of effect standardized testing is having on daily curriculum, or how the school day and year are arranged and whether those are beneficial for learning. Whatever your choice, you should include enough information so that someone who is not familiar with your particular issue has a decent grasp of what you want to talk about.

POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS – Here, you list the solutions for your problem as they have been proposed by various groups. You should present a minimum of two potential solutions. You may have more, depending on your problem, but you should not have fewer. Using the school day example above, I might talk about varying school starting times (high school starting later in the day, or double sessions, or course selection more like a college campus), or even changing the school year (online choices, year-round school, trimesters, etc.). Your number of solutions will be determined by the research you have done. However many you present, keep the information as balanced as you can.

SELECTED SOLUTION – In this section of the paper, you go into more detail about your chosen solution. Why is this solution preferable over the other possibilities? If this solution were implemented, what benefits or changes should someone expect to see? I might decide–even if don’t like the idea personally–that we need to change the start time of high school to later in the day to accommodate teens’ need for sleep. If I choose this as my solution, I should also have information showing how it will work and why it will be a better choice than another alternative. This will be the most focused and detailed section of your paper.

CONCLUSION – The conclusion should wrap up the paper. It works well if it echoes what’s in the introductory paragraph. It doesn’t have to repeat elements (you don’t have to recopy the thesis), but it should refer to the initial idea and reinforce why your chosen solution is a logical and thoughtful approach to the problem.

Sorting your research notes and assigning them to the appropriate parts of your outline will help you see if you need to review or revisit sections of your paper for additional source material. Some students find it helpful to color-code sections of their outline, then do the same with individual notes to see how much material is available for incorporation and commentary.

As always, be sure to ask questions if you get stuck!

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